Indianapolis is Losing its Bicycling Mojo-Guest Post by Austin Gibble

Austin Gibble is a frequent commenter and Urban Indy fan, and has been gracious enough to share this blog post with us:

Indianapolis is Losing Its Bicycling Mojo

The United States Census Bureau released 2016 Journey to Work data this past week, and it does not paint a pretty picture for bicycling in Indianapolis. In fact, many cities that are notoriously bike-friendly, lost some riders. This includes Portland, OR and Minneapolis, MN. However, this isn’t necessarily true across the board. The average change for bike commuting throughout the United States is a decline of 0.4%, likely attributed to low oil prices and the increase in VMT, resulting in a spike of road deaths.

*It’s important to note that these are commute trip counts only and not counts for all trips. Commute
trips account for less than 20% of trips, on average.

Indianapolis, however, posted a steep drop; 12%. While Indy has seen bicycle commuting increase by 222% since 1990, this drop is the first recorded in recent memory. Some cities, however, posted record highs. These cities include Pittsburgh, Cleveland, DC, and Detroit. So what are these cities doing that the bike-friendly cities, and Indianapolis, aren’t? They’re building
protected infrastructure, and lots of it. These cities have adopted bicycling-heavy transportation policies and plans, and they’re allocating the funding to implement greenways and protected bike lanes to show they are serious.

It can be argued that Indianapolis has become complacent in our bike lane building. We adopted one of the nation’s first Complete Streets ordinances and built the Cultural Trail. After that, things have somewhat coasted. Butler University recently completed a small, yet disconnected, segment of protected bike lanes, and the protected bike lanes under construction along East Michigan and East New York abruptly end at Rural on New York and State on Michigan. Greenways have expanded, but in small segments within the compact zone. Large extensions (e.g. the Eagle Creek Greenway) have been built for recreational purposes in the metropolitan zone. The Pennsylvania Street protected bike lane has been less than stellar. It’s too short, provides no opposite direction of travel, provides few connections, and protection is minimal and removed for half of the year. The West New York cycleway stops one block short of where it should, making access for bicyclists come off of the White River Greenway going east incredibly challenging.

We’ve taken the low-hanging fruit and it’s time to climb the tree.

What Needs to be Done?
How can Indianapolis start getting its bicycling commute share to climb again? IndyRezone, which includes provisions for the reduction of fewer car parking spaces if more bike racks are added, was a great start. However, bike parking is useless if there is no means to safely use bicycles. The historical choices made by city and county (and then city-county) administrations past makes Indianapolis especially challenging when it comes to accessibility for those on foot or bike. Cheap sprawl was encouraged, wide roads with no sidewalks or bike lanes were built, and city-owned parking was privatized for one-time revenues. Maintenance of existing facilities has been deferred for decades, making even some local streets barely passable, and policy within the some of the city’s departments continues to prioritize the movement of motor vehicles with minimal delay.

In the following paragraphs, I have outlined some ideas and actionable items to be taken that can
improve bicycling safety and lead us towards enhancing bicycle commuting once again.

1. Adopt a Minimum Bicycle Lane Design Standard

Most of Indianapolis’s bike lanes are simple lines of paint, much of which is in the door zone. It is recommended that the City of Indianapolis and its various departments adopt a minimum standard of design that prioritizes protection of bicyclists from vehicular traffic and keeps them out of the door zone where there is parking. It is recommended that these design standards be derived and adopted using the National Association of Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide. Any adopted standard should make bicycling as transportation a safe and comfortable experience for anyone of all ages and all abilities. This standard should go beyond primary arterials and collector streets to also examine opportunities for “neighborhood greenways/bike boulevards” on side streets, which provide bike-friendly features like micro-roundabouts, lane markings, and wayfinding.

2. Establish Leading Pedestrian/Bike Intervals in the Mile Square, Prohibit Right on Red

The Mile Square is where the greatest concentration of bike trip currently occur. It has been noticeable by many who bike the Pennsylvania Street bike lanes that motorists cut across the bike lanes as the light turns green, running the risk of right-hooking bike and pedestrians. Part of this is a design problem, not enough of a sightline has been established to allow drivers to see the bikes to the right of them. The stop bar should be pushed back while allowing bicyclists to be moved to the front, putting them within the line-of- sight.

Additionally, the City and DPW should establish leading intervals at intersections. These intervals give an extra 3-5 seconds of green time for bicyclists and pedestrians before the light turns green for motorists. This allows bike/ped users to clear the intersection more quickly and puts them in the line-of- sight for motorists.

Prohibiting right-on- red within the Mile Square to reduce motorist/pedestrian collisions as part of the
WalkWays plan has been proposed for some time, but this could also have benefits to bicyclists. It is
unknown what the status is of the no-right- on-red proposal.

3. Examine Methods of Congestion Measurement Other Than Level of Service

Level of Service is frequently used by transportation departments as a means of performance measurement. This method measures seconds of delay at intersections and along routes for motorists.
However, LOS focuses almost entirely on motorists with little consideration for other methods of travel. This makes implementing protected cycling and walking facilities difficult, as it often requires the reallocation of existing travel lanes and the reconfiguration of intersections. One such new option for performance measurement is vehicle miles traveled, or VMT. VMT can be used to measure total or per capital VMT, calculate air pollution, GHGs, and energy impacts. The goal of VMT performance measurement is to reduce VMT, rather than decrease travel time through increasing speed. This shifts the practice from expanding roads and intersections to prioritizing methods of travel other than motor vehicles. Additionally, it encourages infill because it has a reduced VMT per capita.
Under LOS, sprawl is encouraged because greenfield developments essentially have no congestion impacts within the immediate area. While this link is a California-based viewpoint of LOS, it provides an excellent summary of the overall goals and benefits of the VMT performance measure.

4. Prioritize Bikeway Investments

The City and its various departments that serve bicycle transportation-related purposes (e.g. IndyParks, Department of Public Works, and the Department of Metropolitan Development – Transportation Division) as well as non-profits working on bicycling access (e.g. IndyCog and Central Indiana Community Foundation) need to coordinate and prioritize investments based on need and location of disadvantaged populations. This needs to be a data-driven analysis examining the lack of protected bike facilities on major roads within the compact zone, locations of disadvantaged populations, traffic counts, and high-crash intersections. The ultimate goal should be to create a connected network of protected bikeways and greenways that provide vast accessibility to the city as a whole, but largely focused on accessibility within the compact zone (where usability of bicycles as transportation is greatest).

5. Close the Gaps and Repair Pinch Points

There are several gaps in Indy’s bicycle lane network that need to be upgraded and closed. This includes the Pleasant Run Greenway at English and Washington, Prospect Street, Southeastern Ave, and the remainders of Michigan and New York (both east and west).

6. Create a City-County Budget That Reflects Safety and Accessibility for All Users, Including Bikes

This one is self-explanatory. The City-County has developed cycling facilities where it has been relatively cheap to do so, using paint when resurfacing existing streets as part of the Complete Streets ordinance. Budgets from the City-County now need to reflect that proper bike facilities will require planning, effort, and materials, and should prioritize the funding of a well-connected system of protected bike lanes and greenways within the compact zone.

7. Don’t Over-complicate It

The design of protected bikeways need not be overly complex, but it should also be pleasant. Planters within the Mile Square and neighborhood village centers are an option that is relatively low cost but provides that level of protection that is desired. Simple concrete curbs drilled into the pavement, such as what has been done in Edmonton, are a low-cost and simple way to quickly implement protected bike lanes on arterial streets. There are now businesses dedicated to providing pre-fabricated protected bike lanes, making the implementation process quick and low-cost.

Image Credit: John Robertson/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation


I want to note that this write-up is not meant to be a criticism of DPW, DMD, or the City-County. We have come a very, very long way from our status in 2008, when we had virtually no bicycling facilities at all. The powers that be have done a great job in working to get to where we are now. Indianapolis can get its mojo back when it comes to bicycling, but we have to be willing to make some politically difficult changes. The DMD will soon be developing an updated bicycle plan for the City of Indianapolis, and I encourage individuals to participate in the process and call for quality facilities. However, many of the needed changes need to come from higher up, with leadership required from the City-County Council. In a city like Indianapolis, we have the ability to work directly with our councilors and other leading individuals within our city-county government. It will take communication and coordination to make these changes happen, and recent numbers tell us that it is time to take action.

To see the full report on 2016 bicycle commuting in the United States, check out the League of American Bicyclists
page here.



Comments 17

  • Good stuff, Austin! I passed this along to my city councilor, Jeff Miller.

  • For the record, what is the share for each mode of travel to work in Indianapolis (drive alone, carpool/van pool, transit, bicycle, walk, work at home)?

  • OK, the data from ACS for 2016 were just posted on New Geography.

    For Marion County: 86.7% drive alone, 8.5% carpool, 1.48% transit, 0.6% bike, 1.8% walk.

    For the Indianapolis urbanized area: 88.6% drive alone, 7.8% carpool, 0.95% transit, 0.3% bike, 1.4% walk.

    For Indiana as a whole: 86.5% drive alone, 8.9% carpool, 1.05% transit, 0.4% bike, 2.2% walk.

    For the US as a whole: 80.4% drive alone, 9.5% carpool, 5.36% transit, 0.6% bike, 2.9% walk.

    • Wow…the stats on urbanized Indianapolis compared to the rest of the nation are (a) eye-opening, (b) disappointing, (c) depressing, and (d) all of the above. While the subject of this blog is biking in Indianapolis, it looks like the real challenge is to get more people to use mass transit which would therefore reduce auto dependency and, in turn, help improve bike safety.

      • No one loves to point at our suburban neighbor to the north but they got some good press on Streetsblog this week for their separated infrastructure (not white or green paint):

        • I think Carmel is a model suburb and is doing things the right way. On the other hand, it’s nice to have an affluent-by-design populace to tax and to be able to build a downtown essentially from scratch. No doubt they deserve credit for being much better than the likes of Avon, but there’s a good reason they can do it better than a big, old city.

          • It’s partly a byproduct of Indiana’s income tax structure. If local income taxes were split between “where earned” and “where living” instead of going 100% to the municipality of residence, things would most certainly be different in Carmel.

            But also it’s built into the 3-2-1% structure of property taxes. With its huge office/commercial developments along US31, Illinois, Spring Mill, and Pennsylvania, tax caps probably helped Carmel immensely.

          • Chris B, Carmel is also affected by tax caps in another way: It has helped contribute to its status as country club.

            Basically, if a new house is built, it is going to require a fixed cost of infrastructure. How long will it take to recover that infrastructure from the taxation on a $100k house? A $500k house? A multi-million $ mansion? As a result, Carmel has very little affordable housing stock and has become an exclusive enclave.

            Personally, this is where I think most of the “inauthentic” comments about Carmel’s urbanization come from. I personally think Carmel feels like Disney and I attribute much of that to its cultivated image and lack of economic diversity.

            I digress.

          • Very true. It is unfair to compare a city as old as Indy to Carmel. Still, they are doing things right as you say. It isn’t for everyone.

          • I know this post is late to the game. Tax caps, income differentials, housing prices, the real difference is how the city approaches economic development. Instead of dangling carrots of property tax breaks the city invests in quality of life like bike trails and infrastructure. Yes the city still works with the state with training grants and personal property concessions but property taxes for the most part off limits. As just on example when IU health took over Clarian a previous contract required the now non profit to continue to pay the equivalent of their previous tax bill.

  • Or, just maybe, most people prefer to drive cars and not commute by bicycle, so that’s where the spending priorities should be focused. Banning right turns on red? Really?

    I agree that Carmel is inauthentic–its cookie-cutter municipal buildings remind me of Main Street in Disneyland, and the fake effort at replicating part of Budapest is just sad. Voters in Carmel saw through the attempt to purchase someone else’s history with the carousel.

    • Right on red is dangerous for pedestrians crossing at intersections.

      • …because drivers are almost entirely focused left looking for a break, and if someone to their right starts crossing right to left they are in harm’s way. (Thought I would explain the obvious to Natacha, who apparently never walked along College Ave. to any of the nearby restaurants.)

    • Don’t worry, Natacha. Indiana’s (and the country’s) spending priorities are still overwhelmingly pro-car. The fact that we might have seen a slip from 97% to 95% car-based DOT funding (meaning 2% for transportation enhancements, or transit) still puts the beloved private automobile comfortably at the top by a huge margin. The cherished off-street parking lots downtown won’t be disappearing quickly, that’s for sure.

  • F the bike lanes.

  • Howdy, Other than investment in the Indy Cultural Trail, could you kindly explain how the Central Indiana Community Foundation has been involved in bicycling infrastructure?

    Thank you!


    I’m tired of taking my life in my hands at intersections where Right Turns on Red are prohibited and drivers (including law enforcement) don’t even slow down when turning across your path, ignoring No Turn on Red signs, or both.

    I’ve used to complain about this to both the Mayor’s office and IMPD and I have not seen any results. Traffic enforcement is still at the very bottom of IMPD’s priority list.

    Then their are the …incompetent scooter riders who seem unaware of anything more than five feet in front of them while attempting to earn a Darwin Award as they dart out of a side street, ride the wrong way on a busy street, or cut you off.

    There is an app called TowIt that I wish Indianapolis would adopt. It lets you report double parked vehicles (like the people that think bike lanes are their personal parking spaces) using a picture of the car’s license plate. I also emailed the developer asking them to add the ability to scan a scooter’s QR code to be able to report improperly parked scooters blocking sidewalks, wheelchair ramps, etc.

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